I grew up playing sports with my brothers – anything they did, I followed them and tried it out. Unfortunately – and many other people with cystic fibrosis can relate – I was too small for most of the sports my brothers played.
My freshman year, I didn’t make the basketball team, and I ended up gravitating toward the cross-country team. I’d lace up my shoes and run for miles and miles and miles. No one really knew back then (the 70s!), but that running, that sport, kept my lungs clear and helped me stay healthy for years.
After a few months, I was transitioning to compete as a sprinter for our indoor season, but I quickly became intrigued by the pole vaulters I saw and decided to give it a go.
I fell in love with it… fast. Pole vaulting was this perfect combination of being a member of team but also having to hold myself accountable for my individual performance. It was extremely challenging physically and mentally. And that first time I jumped, I can’t describe it any other way than feeling like I had electricity going through my body. I was hooked.
And I stayed hooked as I competed at UCONN while I was in college and continued to jump for the New York Athletic Club until my mid-40s.
Eventually, it was time to move on from the hours of training, but I still loved the competition. I am a big believer of reinventing yourself when you face a major change in life – and this time around, I decided to become a coach so that I could share what I had learned with others.
Soon after I made that decision a fellow pole vaulter and friend, Coach Jim Henderson, mentioned an opening in staff at Iona Prep in New Rochelle. Since it is only about an hour from where I live in Brooklyn, I took the interview with the head coach, Jan Mitchell, and got the gig! Since it was a long commute, I figured I would do it for a year or so and then move on.
Boy, was I wrong.
Thirty-two years later, I am still coaching the boys’ team at Iona Prep as well as the girls’ team at Ursuline Academy (and did a short stint at Monsignor Farrell on Staten Island).
I have learned over time that mentoring my teams about pole vault comes second to teaching them important life lessons about integrity, finding your passion, and so many other things that led to my successes in life. I am their coach, their friend, their mentor… and definitely dish out tough love to keep them in line.
When I tell people that I have around 14 kids ‘right now’, they tend to get extremely confused… until I explain that I have 14 pole vaulters whom I coach. But they are my kids – the ones who have graduated and moved on in life and the ones who are incoming freshman. I take great pride in their successes and feel their pain when they fall short.
Coaching ‘my kids’ keeps me young. And most days, I feel like they teach me as much as I teach them.
It is a really beautiful thing when I hear from one of my kids who graduated, wanting to catch up, grab dinner, or just chat on the phone to see how I am doing. I am always humbled that my passion for pole vault and for coaching made a difference to them.
I think Emerson said it best, “To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a better place, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch… To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived… This is to have succeeded.”